Sporadic clashes in Syria border town after Turkey truce

Tal Tamr (Syria) (AFP) –


Clashes between Turkish forces and Kurdish groups were ongoing in a battleground Syrian border town Friday despite a US-brokered suspension to Ankara's deadly nine-day offensive in northern Syria.

Plumes of smoke could be seen rising from the town of Ras al-Ain, said an AFP journalist on the Turkish side of the border who also heard explosions and gunfire.

"There are sporadic artillery strikes," Syrian Observatory for Human Rights head Rami Abdul Rahman said. But there was a lull in fighting in much of the rest of northeastern Syria.

Turkey announced a five-day suspension late Thursday after a meeting between President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and US Vice President Mike Pence in Ankara.

Under the deal, Kurdish forces are required to withdraw from a border strip 32-kilometres (20-miles) deep, making up a "safe zone" sought by Turkey.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said they were ready to abide by the ceasefire in the territory from Ras al-Ain to Tal Abyad in northern Syria.

The Turkish offensive was sparked by US President Donald Trump's announcement of an American withdrawal from northern Syria, leading critics to accuse him of betraying Washington's Kurdish allies.

On Thursday evening, Trump said he allowed the two sides to fight for a few days before brokering a truce as they were like "kids in a lot".

Since the offensive's launch on October 9, the Turkish military and Syrian proxies -- mostly Arab and Turkmen former rebels used as a ground force -- seized around 120 kilometres (70 miles) of territory along the border.

More than 500 people have been killed on the two sides, including nearly 100 civilians, while around 300,000 have been displaced, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory monitoring group.

- Hospital surrounded -

Kurdish forces have put up fierce resistance in Ras al-Ain, with a network of tunnels, berms and trenches that held off the Turkish onslaught for a week.

Ankara considers the Kurdish forces to be "terrorists" linked to Kurdish separatists inside Turkey.

Turkish forces and their allies had taken control of half of Ras al-Ain on Thursday when its hospital was hit, trapping patients and staff inside, Abdel Rahman said.

Kurdish authorities sent a medical team to rescue the wounded but it was prevented from entering the town, said Hassan Amin, a director of the hospital in nearby Tal Tamr.

"The situation of the wounded is critical and the number is high," he said, adding that seven wounded people from around Ras al-Ain were however evacuated to Tal Tamr.

- 'War crimes' -

Trump has come under sustained criticism in Washington over his handling of the crisis, not only from Democrats but from within his own Republican Party.

The SDF has fought alongside US forcers to defeat the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria and Iraq, but Trump argued it was no longer the US role to ensure calm in the region.

Thousands of IS fighters and their families are held in Kurdish-run jails across northern Syria.

The prospect that thousands of the world's most radical jihadists could break out in the chaos caused by Turkey's invasion is causing widespread alarm.

The Turkish offensive has also been widely criticised, with videos surfacing online allegedly showing captured fighters and civilians being executed.

On Friday, Amnesty International accused Ankara's forces and their proxies of "serious violations and war crimes, summary killings and unlawful attacks".

There was no immediate response from Ankara, which says all possible measures have been taken to avoid civilian casualties.

Trump welcomed the temporary ceasefire Thursday, but later compared the warring parties to children.

"Like two kids in a lot, you have got to let them fight and then you pull them apart," Trump told a rally in Dallas, Texas.

"They fought for a few days and it was pretty vicious," he added, before stressing that "not one drop of American blood" had been shed.

Brett McGurk, former presidential special envoy for the anti-IS coalition, described Trump's remarks as "obscene and ignorant".